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In line with his parent's wishes, Rainer studied structural engineering at the State Industrial School in Villach from 1947-49. He left both the Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst and the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna within just a few days after artistic disagreements. From now on, he formed himself autodidactically. Under the influence of the gestic painting of Jackson Pollock, Jean Paul Riopelle and Wols, with whom he got acquainted in Paris in 1951, he turned away from fantastic Surrealism and moved on to abstract micro-structures. Around 1953 the first overpaintings, which accompanied his whole life, came into existence. Religious themes, mainly crucifications, had a lasting influence on his work.
'What is paramount in Arnulf Rainer’s ‘Overpaintings’ is the specific fascination exerted by what is to be overpainted; the reserves, which demand correction, the thrill of making a good place into something even better; the complex gain in pleasure from, on the one hand, the rape and murder committed on the picture to be overpainted, on the other, the satisfaction of the creative urge through creating a new organic whole. What has been overpainted can afterwards in most cases no longer be seen; nevertheless it lives on as an extremely important (and not at all arbitrary) component of the final picture in that it has guided the process of overpainting through its individuality' (Hermann Kern, Übersicht über die künstlerische Entwicklung Arnulf Rainers, in: Arnulf Rainer, Exhibition cat. Kunstverein in Hamburg, 1971, p. 3).
After intensive drug experiences and studies in psychiatric hospitals, he began to overpaint photos of his own physiognomy and his body as well as pictures of Old Master and contemporary paintings. In 1978 and 1980, Rainer represented Austria at the Biennale in Venice. From 1981 on he was member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and head of a master's class for painting at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna. After a large exhibition of his oeuvre in Paris in 1984 and a retrospective in New York in 1989, the opening of the Arnulf Rainer-Museum in New York in 1993 was the climax of the approval of his works.
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